“The secluded corner of a busy office room, throbbing with noiseless activity and tense with subdued excitement was not a place where a man now constantly preoccupied with the unseen, could pass several hours at a stretch always at the call of others, without running the risk of serious injury to his mental health.”
Gopi Krishna

Kundalini – The Evolutionary Energy in Man

Breath and Allergy – Spring 2016

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A few days ago allergy symptoms started to appear and have been gradually increasing. A itchiness in my throat, eyes … and sometimes sneezing sequences. This morning, for the first time this season, I had to get out of bed at 5:45 to move myself into a vertical position (lying down aggravates the symptoms) and start my day-long, relieving tea-drinking. This is already different from last year where the allergy symptoms erupted all of a sudden.

Another difference is that the symptoms (so far) are not continuous. They come and go in waves. Tea, relaxation, attention … all seem to help to some degree in reducing the symptoms. I am staying outside more (now that the deck is available), but I am also avoiding some things which may cause aggregation. Fortunately most of the hay has been cut and stored so I am not going to be exposed to much of that in the coming weeks. Also, thanks to Iulia’s presence, I will be staying away from things like harvesting elder-flowers.

Another difference is, maybe due to a gradual appearance of symptoms, that I am able to get on the mat and practice. It may take two cups of tea instead of one. It may take a few hours of relaxation when I wake up with increased symptoms like this morning. But, so far, I have been able to make my way onto the mat and THAT has been an informative exploration. I have felt that  asana practice has absorbed allergic disturbances and that, as a result, pranayama practice (that has recently changed) has been steady and undisturbed.

Being on the mat right now is an interesting convergence. I am arriving at the allergy well established in practice. I am enjoying an overall softening and expansion of the body and breath due to the warmer and brighter days … and at the same time incorporating the effects of the allergic response.

There has been a a prominent expression in breath during practice, specifically on exhale. I have felt exhales get a bit shorter but I also felt a more subtle change. It is as if there is a certain tension in the exhale. I experience more difficulty in surrendering to it, more tension. This morning, during practice the word “distress” came to me … and I felt it touches on the core of allergic response.

Reflecting on this made me appreciate the revealing qualities of breath. As my breath has lengthened it has had a kind of slow-motion effect on observation. Simply put, there is more time for me to observe, taken in, experience. As a result, I have experienced this subtle distress in my breath as a physical presence … almost as clear as I would feel a strained muscle.

Lengthening of breath also brings with it a qualitative change that I have experienced in two ways. A longer breath acts as an attention funnel, it keeps me more focused and more steady in my focus. An exhale of 12, 15 or 20 seconds holds my attention more firmly … or I could just as well say that if my attention is not stable my exhale cannot extend this way.

Another qualitative change is softness. This has become especially tangible for me due to the recent change in my pranayama practice. Moving to a 10 second inhale and the relative increase in exhale has coaxed out of me more softness. When I initially approached the new practice I could not arrive comfortably af 15 seconds (even though I knew that I had the capacity). It took me a few days (this is all very recent) of staying with a 10.0.10.0 ratio (instead of 10.0.15.0) and settling in it before I was suddenly and smoothly able to soften my breath and arrive at 15 seconds. It is hard to put in words this quality of softness.

This softness is also projecting into my attention … off-the-mat. In the last few years I have already shifted my relationship and approach to my allergy with soft acceptance and curiosity. I feel very little residue of control or change … I do not feel inclined to neither diagnose nor cure my allergy. This subtle softness feels like an affirmation of that relationship … a soft support 🙂

 

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Christopher Alexander on Pleasing Yourself

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“In order to create living structure, we must please ourselves … And you need only please yourself. But you must please yourself truly. And to do that you must first discover your own true self, come close enough to t, and to listen to it, so that it can be pleased.

Does this sound absurd? And does it sound too easy? It is not absurd. And it is that kind of ‘easy’ which is so hard that on most days it is almost undoable, because to do it we have to break down every resistant force that remains in us …

If true, and it if can be made practical, this would be amazing. Having grown up in an era of moralistic prescriptions, of laws, rules, theories, regulations, prescriptions – all well-meaning, but all ultimately incapable of creating living structure – it would be astonishing, truly amazing, to find out that if we can only learn how to please ourselves, tha prescription by itself will always create living structure.

… we are so mired in the subjectivity of value that we have lost all connection with the fact – or the idea – that what truly pleases us is always living structure, and that living structure might even be defined as ‘that which pleases us,’ that which truly pleases us. And there, in that one word, ‘truly,’ lies the whole space of these four books.

… We cannot perform the unfolding process without knowing how to please ourselves – truly .. The social processes of unfolding comes about as society learns how all its men and women may, in the going about of daily life and in the creation of their world, know how to please themselves.

… What I have said about ‘I,’ what used to be called the religious basis of existence, the contact with that world, and the respect for the ultimate, spiritual nature of matter – all this, too, may be encapsulated through the idea of our pleasing ourselves.

To some traditionalists, this might seem almost like blasphemy or heresy. Yet I believe – indeed, I am nearly certain – that when we learn and practice this pleasing oneself at the very deepest level, that is the same thing, then, and leads to the same thing, that was once related by the most mystical religious art, seeking union with God, creating the greatest and most holy things on Earth … and in doing it, we might be led to the forms of art, the forms of buildings, which are most like nature, most nearly in touch with the nature of the universe.

… We will never be able to contribute to the world’s horrible buildings – too prevalent in recent years – if we make things that we like.

… I was invited by a fellow professor of architecture …. to be a critic in the final review of his masters’ class. His students were in their last year, and they had spent the year working on a project for an office building … the students’ drawings were all around the walls. Other jury members began making comments, but, for a long time, I kept quiet. I hate juries … After half an hour or so, I felt that I couldn’t go on keeping quiet … I felt, I said, that the students did not really like their buildings … ‘I realize that you have done your best, done work that on some level you like; but it is not really liking, you do not really like what you have done, in the same ordinary sense that you like a hamburger, or a rose. That is what I mean. I am convinced.’ …

The students were angry with me … my discussion with the students lasted about half an hour. Gradually, by the end, I had led them to admit that, in the sense that I meant it, in the ordinary sense, they really did not like that they had done, or what they had been doing – that indeed, the conditions of their work had never emphasized this point at all … That was just not part of the professional discipline being taught to them … And yet, I said to them, ‘How terrible! This means you can expect to live your life making buildings that you do not really like.’ And, even worse, that the others in society, who live with the buildings, made in this loveless spirit, will spend hours, days, years, living with these products of an unliked and unlikable architecture, done only because it was the thing to do, the way to get jobs, the way to impress one’s fellow architects.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 4: The Luminous Ground

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Christopher Alexander on Making as Healing

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“When the I-stuff is created, it nourishes the maker – not only the viewer, but the maker too. For some reason, the process of making things which are alive enlarges us, deepens our experience. I feel more alive for having done it. It is like food … What is the reason for this ‘food-like’ character of the making process?

It is amazing to fully grasp the impact of making something beautiful. Have you experienced the fact that when you make a beautiful thing, you feel happy for days, sometimes for one or two whole days, the feeling that something wonderful and important has happened in you, live on in you? And the reverse is true, also. When you make something ugly, you may be depressed for days. A feeling of gloom and dissatisfaction hangs over you. You can’t get over it.

This little discussed effect is, from an empirical standpoint, extraordinary … Why should such a deep effect exist? Why is beauty so much connected with our well-being, our happiness?

… When I manage, at some level, to make life (in a big thing or a small thing), I feel more alive. I feel more whole, myself. On the other hand, so long as I am making stuff that does not have life in it, I feel dull, listless oppressed. And even then, when I am feeling dull and listless like that … the tiniest success … all at once I wake up, I feel joyful and happy … It seems that the smallest success in making life extends and fills my experience for hours or days. The absence of it starves me.

The positive feeling I have described does not come merely from the activity of making. It comes about only when the field of living centers is actually achieved. Indeed, cases of making where living structure is not achieved have a tense, unresolved feeling associated with them, that is more like frustration than satisfaction, even when a thing is actually made and finished.

… There is a direct connection between the living structure of the world and the achieved person-ness we experience in ourselves.

This connection is similar to the typical relation between centers in any system of wholeness. The intensity of one center (its degree of life), is directly dependent upon the intensity of other centers within that wholeness.

Now, of course, a person is also a living structure, also a field of centers, also a wholeness. This field, like any other, is therefore also linked to the intensity and wholeness of the other centers and other fields immediately round about. Thus, the relation between a person’s own wholeness, and the wholeness of things in that person’s immediate environment, is a direct consequence of a thing which he is trying to make.

… The patterns in A Pattern Language and the fifteen properties in The Phenomenon of Life [The Nature of Order – Book 1], help to create a mental state in which you are allowed to experience and develop your most vulnerable personal nature. The properties open the door to feelings which you have, but which are suppressed. Thus, although the mechanical application of the fifteen properties is not very desirable, even that mechanical process has some positive role. The more you use the properties, the more you find out that they create structures which correspond to your feeling. And this gives you permission, more and more, to liberate your feeling, to rely on it.

… Thus, paradoxically, it is only when you finally are personal, when you really put your humanness into the things you make, that you genuinely reach the wholeness we call order … But first you need access to the structure of wholeness in order to be human, in order to be personal, and to be able to place your personal feeling out into the world.

… Just as the centers on one part of the world nourish the other living centers near them, so the person who is also a center, is nourished by this appearance of wholeness. It is as if each contribution to the I enlarges each other window to the I … Each of us participates in the I. Each enlargement of the I enlarges each of us.

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 4: The Luminous Ground

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Christopher Alexander on Tears, Sadness and Unity

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This resonates deeply with me. A pursuit of happiness has never appealed or worked out for me. If what Alexander is true, then the oh-so-popular notion of “pursuit of happiness” is bound to hit a wall. My experiences of happiness seem to expire quickly, while my experiences of sadness seem resonate deeper and longer … as if they carry more information, guidance, direction … a deeper sensibility.

“Unity ties everything together – including joy, happiness and laughter, but also including loss, death and betrayal. A thing which truly has unity partakes of everything. And through that everything, there must be sadness. The making of this sadness, then, must come through a process where land, details, rooms, form an indivisible whole. Always trying to tie it together, to unify it, to make it disappear.

To set the stage further for understanding unity in a building, I go back to the emotional underpinning of the living structure, its personal character, its rootedness in feeling … The I, the blazing one, is something which I reach only to the extent that I experience, and make manifest, my feeling. What feeling, exactly? What exactly am I aiming for in a building, in a column, in a room? How do I define it for myself, so that I feel it early, so that it stands as a beacon to steer me in what I do every day?

What I aim for is, most concretely, sadness. I try to make the volume of the building so that it carries in it all feeling. To reach this feeling, I try to make the building so that it carries my eternal sadness. It comes, as nearly as I can in a building, to the point of tears.

… I cannot do it in a trivial way. I cannot literally make the building laugh and cry. And it is not gloomy either. This sadness of tears, when I reach it is also joy … What makes it sad is that it comes closest, in the physical concrete beams and columns and walls, as close as possible, to the fact of my existence on this earth. It reminds me of it, it makes me take part in it. So when it happens, it is also a kind of joy, a happiness.

But to recognize it, I concentrate most on my sadness, and my tears.

Although social pressure – the desire to please others – sometimes makes it hard to reach the I, the difficulty is not mainly a social difficulty. It is mainly an artistic difficulty.The difficulty arises simply because it is so hard to find that shape, that substance, which actually makes tears well up in me. … To many people a roof is just a roof. A column is just a column. It takes great effort ot perception, conscious work, and concentration, to see that the subtle changes of the column makes a difference to its sadness, or to its capacity to hold,and reflect sadness.

I look at the shafts of the columns … I move them, change them, cut cardboard, modify the shape. At first they seem merely nice … I stand back in the room, a few times, to check it, also looking at the base. Simpler seems better. Gradually, as I achieve a more harmonious shape, … I begin to see something which nearly works … I begin to be aware that this column which I am making can be more austere – and that, as I strip away every bit which is too sweet, that I slowly eave the bare bone of something which can affect me, can make me – almost choke tears in my throat. Of course, it is just a sensation, not actual tears. It is so slight, I have to watch the growing thing in the room very intensely to notice it all.

But if I pay very careful attention to the feeling which is welling up in me, I do notice tiny differences, small sensations, and I do notice that threat of tears, that harshness in the back of my throat which moves me towards the shape of the column which will ultimately have a more serious meaning which will enlarge life in that room, which will then, through its austerity, make more likely the experience of joy.

… A thing does not get its unity from being ‘beautiful’. The unity comes from the fact that the various centers are harmoniously connected, and that every center helps every other center … But above all, it comes from the fact that in the thing, throughout the thing, we see the I in every part, at eery scale. We see only one I, the same I, shining out from every part.

In some cases this results in something which we may call beautiful in the ordinary sense of the word. In another case, the result of the helping between centers is beautiful only in the sense that it fills us up with life, reminds us of ordinary everyday things, reminds us of the messiness and goodness of everyday life – but is not beautiful in the sense that it would make a great picture in an architectural magazine.

… it is a unity of the most fundamental kind, which goes to the raw reality and which has, when it occurs, a highly unexpected, sometimes rambling, sometimes ferocious, sometimes friendly, even sometimes absurdly crude or comfortable character.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 4: The Luminous Ground

 

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Christopher Alexander on Schrödinger’s Yellow

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“Schrödinger, the physicist who discovered the matter-wave equation of quantum mechanics, has a great deal to teach us about color and its real existence. He outlines [in his short book Mind and Matter] the following argument.

‘You and I, both see yellow. But according to the prevailing view of science, there is no way of knowing whether the interior experience you have when you see yellow is the same as the interior experience I have when I see yellow. Of course, we know that we shall both say the word yellow when we look at a buttercup, or at light of 5,00 angstroms. But this says nothing about the inner experience we have.’

Schrödinger goes on to say, that although this point of view is logically consistent, it seems intuitively absurd. Intuitively it seems to him that the inner experience of yellow, its yellowness, is something real. He guesses that we all experience it in the same way – in short, that ‘your’ yellowness and ‘my’ yellowness are one and the same thing, not two different things … If it is indeed true – as many people probably believe intuitively … then this would imply that there is some domain where this yellowness actually exists. Where is it?

After thinking carefully about this problem, Schrödinger says that he has been able to find no other possible way of explaining this except to say that there is, in the world, only one single mind where the yellow occurs, and that our individual minds are all part of this one mind, and somehow all have access to it. This would explain why we all have the conviction that the yellowness we see is not private, but objectively real and shared.

… Schrödinger talks about color sensation in general without reference to good or bad, shallow or profound. He says, in essence, that when we see color, we experience some domain beyond the immediately material one.

.. I extrapolate from Schrödinger’s argument, go beyond it, and reach my own conclusion. I suggest that inner light, which is revealed, seen, when very great color occurs … allows us to experience the great self, in greater degree or in lesser degree, and that our experience of inner light is the experience of the great self directly and openly seen, openly experienced.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 4: The Luminous Ground

 

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